Assyr’ia, As’shur, was a great and powerful country lying on the Tigris, Gen. 2:14, the capital of which was Nineveh. Gen. 10:11, etc. It derived its name apparently from Asshur, the son of Shem, Gen. 10:22, who in later times was worshipped by the Assyrians as their chief god.
1. Extent.—The boundaries of Assyria differed greatly at different periods. Probably in the earliest times it was confined to a small tract of low country lying chiefly on the left bank of the Tigris. Gradually its limits were extended, until it came to be regarded as comprising the whole region between the Armenian mountains (lat. 37º30’) upon the north, and upon the south the country about Baghdad (lat. 33º30’). Eastward its boundary was the high range of Zagros, or mountains of Kurdistán; westward it was, according to the views of some, bounded by the Mesopotamian desert, while according to others it reached the Euphrates.
2. General character of the country.—On the north and east the high mountain-chains of Armenia and Kurdistán are succeeded by low ranges of limestone hills of a somewhat arid aspect. To these ridges there succeeds at first an undulating zone of country, well watered and fairly productive, which extends in length for 250 miles, and is interrupted only by a single limestone range. Above and below this barrier is an immense level tract, now for the most part a wilderness, which bears marks of having been in early times well cultivated and thickly peopled throughout.
3. Original peopling.—Scripture informs us that Assyria was peopled from Babylon, Gen. 10:11, and both classical tradition and the monuments of the country agree in this representation.
4. Date of the foundation of the kingdom.—As a country, Assyria was evidently known to Moses. Gen. 2:14; 25:18; Num. 24:22, 24. The foundation of the Assyrian empire was probably not very greatly anterior to b.c. 1228.
5. History.—The Mesopotamian researches have rendered it apparent that the original seat of government was not at Nineveh, but at Kileh-Sherghat, on the right bank of the Tigris. The most remarkable monarch of the earlier kings was called Tiglath-pileser. He appears to have been king towards the close of the twelfth century, and thus to have been contemporary with Samuel. Afterwards followed Pul, who invaded Israel in the reign of Menahem, 2 Kings 15:29, about b.c. 770, and Shalmaneser, who besieged Samaria three years, and destroyed the kingdom of Israel b.c. 721, himself or by his successor Sargon, who usurped the throne at that time. Under Sargon the empire was as great as at any former era, and Nineveh became a most beautiful city. Sargon’s son Sennacherib became the most famous of the Assyrian kings. He began to reign 704 b.c. He invaded the kingdom of Judea in the reign of Hezekiah. He was followed by Esarhaddon, and he by a noted warrior and builder, Sardanapalus. In Scripture it is remarkable that we hear nothing of Assyria after the reign of Esarhaddon, and profane history is equally silent until the attacks began which brought about her downfall. The fall of Assyria, long previously prophesied by Isaiah, Isa. 10:5-19, was effected by the growing strength and boldness of the Medes, about 625 b.c. The prophecies of Nahum and Zephaniah (Nah. 2:13-15) against Assyria were probably delivered shortly before the catastrophe.
6. General character of the empire.—The Assyrian monarchs bore sway over a number of petty kings through the entire extent of their dominions. These native princes were feudatories of the great monarch, of whom they held their crown by the double tenure of homage and tribute. It is not quite certain how far Assyria required a religious conformity from the subject people. Her religion was a gross and complex polytheism comprising the worship of thirteen principal and numerous minor divinities, at the head of all of whom stood the chief god, Asshur, who seems to be the deified patriarch of the nation. Gen. 10:22.
7. Civilization of the Assyrians.—The civilization of the Assyrians was derived originally from the Babylonians. They were a Shemitic race, originally resident in Babylonia (which at that time was Cushite), and thus acquainted with the Babylonian inventions and discoveries, who ascended the valley of the Tigris and established in the tract immediately below the Armenian mountains a separate and distinct nationality. Still, as their civilization developed it became in many respects peculiar. Their art is of home growth. But they were still in the most important points barbarians. Their government was rude and inartificial, their religion coarse and sensual, and their conduct of war cruel.
8. Modern discoveries in Assyria.—(Much interest has been excited in reference to Assyria by the discoveries lately made there, which confirm and illustrate the Bible. The most important of them is the finding of the stone tablets or books which formed the great library at Nineveh, founded by Shalmaneser b.c. 860, but embodying tablets written 2000 years b.c. This library was more than doubled by Sardanapalus. These tablets were broken into fragments, but many of them have been put together and deciphered by the late Mr. George Smith, of the British Museum. All these discoveries of things hidden for ages, but now comes to light, confirm the Bible.—Ed.)